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Longitude - June 2013

by Emma Bonino

The generation of Europeans that are now coming of age is the first to have been brought up entirely in the world transitioning from global prosperity to great recession, a world veering from a stable balance of power toward greater disorder. Along with this generation we need to find out what exactly has been lost in our view of history and geography.

At stake today is not only the stability of the European economy – perhaps even the world’s economy – but also the survival of the most successful effort to unite Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. As recession engulfs the continent, as unemployment on massive scale emerges, the overriding fear is indeed one of financial and economic collapse. But to understand what is happening we also need to look at what is happening to Europe as a whole.

The European founding fathers’ dream of peace and freedom, a dream that had become a reality for the post-World War II generation, now seems to be turning into a nightmare for many. The EU is being associated with austerity policies that exacerbate recession and unemployment, leading to social despair. More worryingly, there are signs that the EU crisis is not limited to the economic sphere but has also affected its fundamental values. For pro-Europeans, the EU is a vision of a single continent that shares common values and common interests that deserve global representation and enforcement. Failure to deliver this promise undermines all of the institutions Europe has worked so hard to craft. Therefore, this crisis is a political one, a crisis of sovereignty, cultural identity and the legitimacy of the elite. Can the continent’s ruling class – who grew up with a deep commitment, intellectually and emotionally to the idea of Europe – manage to harness the strife?

The truth is that only a grand comprehensive project can relaunch Europe – one that captures people’s imagination: without emotional glue it is very difficult to keep alive and defend an institutional arrangement designed to last. For sure, small steps won’t work.

All over the world there is a pressing demand for more Europe. The European Union has many weaknesses. But, for all those weaknesses, numerous on-going accession negotiations have confirmed that the European Union is still acting as a “magnet,” attracting its external neighbors, transforming and integrating them. Unfortunately, this virtuous magnetism no longer exerts the same force of attraction on those already in Europe.

Everywhere in Europe we see rising intolerance; growing support for xenophobic and populist parties; discrimination and a weakening of the rule of law; entire populations of undocumented migrants, virtually without rights, who are victims of their unwanted status rather than their individual behaviour. Our inclusive and open community is threatened by destructive actions pursued by nationalistic and demagogic groups. But they are not the only ones. In some countries – like mine, Italy - there are too many violations of the rule of law and of international and European treaties, an unreliable justice system, inhumane and degrading conditions in prisons, serious infringements of human rights and grave cases of lack of accountability. How can we preach respect for universal values abroad if we are among the countries most condemned by the European Court of human rights?

It is in our vital interest to address all these alarming trends.

To defend the European construction, we need to rediscover its mission. Its founders had to discard a whole world of prejudice and fear. They knew from their tragic experience that it was an illusion to ensure peace and security by building fortresses and walls. They chose integration, and rejected barriers. And they understood that all freedoms are closely linked with each other; one cannot want free trade yet hinder the free movement of people.

These principles should guide us now that unreasonable prejudice and unjustified fear are paralyzing political leaders. For example, we know that migration enriches countries, both of origin and destination. But fear and prejudice prevent some countries from accepting long-term residents in Europe as full citizens. Protecting and promoting the rights of resident workers is not only in line with our values, it is also in our own interest, since it prevents the social backlash and economic costs produced by the development of an underclass.

Fear and prejudice are being spread across Europe mainly by nationalistic and demagogic groups, who are exploiting the current malaise.

However, I believe that the choice is not simply between fiscal tightening and freewheeling spending, nor can fear of and disaffection with Europe be tackled with economic measures or financial engineering alone. No solution is credible without a political dimension and without encompassing the whole European architecture. The music, rather than the words, has to change. We need a new score: a federal solution.

I have spent a lot of time, passion and energy supporting the creation of a federal Europe; not out of ideology but simply because I know of no other system capable of allowing a half a billion people – belonging to different nations, cultures, religions and speaking a multitude of languages – to live together in freedom and diversity in the 21st century. Political leaders are also beginning to see federalism as a necessity. This development was presciently understood by Margaret Thatcher when in 1990 she told the British Parliament that “economic and monetary union is really the backdoor to a federal Europe.” I cannot but agree with her words. However, with one huge difference: what for her was a warning, for me is the goal of my life.

Federalism does not mean that the central European government should become a superstate, as europhobes fear. A few years ago, long before taking office as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I proposed a “Federation-light,” an institutional model that would absorb no more than 5% of European GDP in order to finance precise government functions such as foreign and security policy, scientific research, trans-European networks, and the safety of commercial transactions.

Case in point: How can European governments provide adequate security, with fewer financial resources? Only a fully shared European defense, with common, integrated armed forces, will enable us to get out of the corner into which tight budgetary constraints are confining us. European governments are reluctant to take decisive steps towards this goal. The consequences of that reluctance are fragmented initiatives, wasted resources and a growing irrelevance of European influence on the world stage. The same applies to scientific research, a field where national programmes are often too small to be productive and compete successfully with the huge projects of the other global powers.

The 2014 European parliamentary elections will be a significant test. If we want to prevent the risk of an over-representation of populist parties, we need to put federal Europe at the centre stage of the electoral campaign. The pro-Europe political families should present their own candidate for the presidency of the European Commission and submit political agendas for the future of the EU, stressing that a federal solution would save significant financial resources. In this manner the federalist perspective could assume concrete meaning for all citizens, avoiding the risk of being perceived as an abstract juridical matter.

In 2014, a century after the murder of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which led to the destruction of Europe, we will have another opportunity to give new impetus to the federal project, under the Italian Presidency of the EU. And after 2014, a review of the Treaties could give European citizens a stronger sense of ownership of our common institutions.

History is the best early warning mechanism. We know what happened to our countries when nationalism and demagogy prevailed. We could soon lose all that we have achieved since the 1950s, which would be a catastrophe. But if we adopt a new vision, engage our citizens and unite our governments, we could start a new phase of fostering growth, democratic legitimacy and global influence.



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